History and Research Foundations

In studies conducted nation-wide, the keys to a successful transition appear in programs all over the country. The three keys are: (1) strong teacher-to-student connections in a smaller learning community; (2) consistent and high academic expectations; and (3) the fostering of student “survival” skills such as communication, organization, and active studying.

Research across the United States has also shown that the freshman year is a pivotal year for most adolescents. In many cases, if students do not get off to a good start their freshman year, they spend the rest of their high school career “digging out.” The transition from 8th grade to 9th grade brings many changes: moving from a more intimate, less populated middle school climate to the hustle and bustle of high school (and Camas is a big high school); moving from courses which are valuable but not required for achievement of a diploma, to courses whose grades remain a permanent part of a student’s record, which they carry with them beyond high school. The social, developmental, and personal changes that adolescents go though at this transition time makes is a key point for schools to intervene and provide additional support. It is based on this philosophy that the CHS Freshman Academy was established in 2004-05.

But something else happened at CHS that spurred the administration and a group of teachers to design the Freshman Academy. In the 2003-04 school year, an alarming number of very capable, mainstream 9th grade students were entering their second year at the high school in a strange predicament: they were sophomores by age but still 9th graders in terms of graduation credits. They had not passed enough classes to move onto the 10th grade. This phenomenon is known nationwide as the “Freshman Bulge” or the “Freshman Bottleneck,” since repeating 9th graders make the 9th grade class disproportionately large at nearly every public high school in the nation. Thus, the Freshman Academy was created to help these otherwise capable students understand the expectations of high school and transition from middle school in a way that helps them lay a solid foundation for their future.

The first year of the CHS Freshman Academy was a resounding success. The students witnessed increased grades compared to their 8th grade year, and 100% of the students self-reported an increase in confidence as students. Plus, their measurable skills in reading and math increased significantly as well. The success of the first year resulted in high demand the second year: nearly 130 students sought the only 88 slots available, a trend which continues to this day (Nearly 200 students apply each year).

The formula and structure of the Freshman Academy continues to evolve and develop to meet the needs of the students. The Academy teachers likewise strive to develop as professionals. During their tenure as teachers, members of the staff have earned advanced degrees, pursued and achieved the highest levels of teaching certification, and have earned local and statewide recognition for excellence. Academy teachers are dedicated to their students and chose to teach in the Academy because of their willingness to go the extra mile for their students.